Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Ivy-in-Chief: Is the Political Establishment Too Elitist?

George Washington had no formal education of any kind.  No PhD's, no Master's degrees, no Bachelor's degree; not even so much as a high school diploma.  Yet, after proving his military leadership on the battlefield for a young nation during its time of need, he was unanimously elected its first President.  By contrast, the man who succeeded him as our second President, John Adams, had absolutely zero military experience; what he had, instead, was an Ivy League education from Harvard and a license to practice law.  And so a precedent was established early on that has persisted to this day; those 2 characteristics ((i) military experience and/or (ii) an Ivy League education) formed an unspoken "check list" for the resumes of all presidents who followed Washington and Adams (with very few exceptions).

To be sure, not every U.S. president has had an Ivy League education or, for that matter, even a college degree.  Of the 44 U.S. presidents, 10 of them (including our friend George Washington mentioned above) never graduated from college.  But upon closer inspection of those 10 presidents without college degrees, 8 of the 10 (George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zach Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Harry Truman) all had military experience.  So if you had military experience then you had a pretty good shot at the title during the 18th and 19th centuries regardless of whether you had any education or not. 

But those were the days of old when we were fighting a different war every 5 minutes.  So, naturally, any presidential candidate who had picked up a rifle was in like Flynn. However, as America cooled its jets going into the 20th century, the college educated crowd quickly regained their lead within the Presidency. And whenever you have the college educated crowd you, of course, have the Ivy Leaguers giving hook ups to each other from one class to the next.

Locations of America's 8 Ivy League Colleges & Universities
There are over 500 colleges and universities in the United States, yet out of all of these numerous institutions of higher learning, we seem to have an over-representation of the same select few schools when it comes to the Presidency.  Of the 44 U.S. presidents, 15 of them (34%) have attended one of the 8 Ivy League schools shown in the map above.  When you include three (3) other prestigious institutions (Georgetown, Stanford, and William & Mary) that number increases to 20 out of 44 presidents (45%).  Harvard alone lays claim to 8 presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama).

Over the past 25 years, the Ivy League has dominated every single U.S. presidential election, often doing so on both sides of the aisle.  Since the Presidential Election of '88, voters have had the following "choices":

Michael Dukakis (Harvard Law) vs. George H.W. Bush (Yale)
Bill Clinton (Yale Law) vs. George H.W. Bush (Yale)
Bill Clinton (Yale Law) vs. Bob Dole (Non-Ivy)
Al Gore (Harvard) vs. George W. Bush (Yale, Harvard MBA)
John Kerry (Yale) vs. George W. Bush (Yale, Harvard MBA)
Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) vs. John McCain (Military Experience)
Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) vs. Mitt Romney (Harvard Law/MBA)
As you can see, the Ivies have saturated the market lately.  Indeed, Republican Bob Dole who graduated from a Kansas undergrad and law school (Washburn University) and Republican John McCain who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy were handily beaten by their respective Ivy League opponents.

Even intra-party primaries have shown favortism towards the Ivies.  Consider the hotly contested Democratic Primary of 2008; Yale law graduate Hillary Clinton battled it out with Columbia/Harvard Law grad Barack Obama as both Ivies squeezed out the non-Ivy North Carolina State University graduate John Edwards. Also consider the recent 2012 Republican Primary where, despite random surges for Emory grad Newt Gingrich, University of Minnesota grad Tim Pawlenty, Morehouse grad Herman Cain, Winona State and Oral Roberts Law grad Michelle Bachmann, Texas A&M grad Rick Perry, and Penn State and Dickinson Law grad Rick Santorum, the Republican establishment chose Harvard Law/MBA grad Mitt Romney to carry the GOP banner against Obama.

Which begs the question:

Is the Political Establishment too elitist when it comes to picking a president?

Follow up questions:

What does it say that effectively half of the U.S. Presidents have come from the same dozen schools?
Is this a good or a bad thing?
If Barack Obama had graduated from Devry Technical Institute, would he be President today?
If Mitt Romney had graduated from community college, (A) would he have been in a position to join an outfit like Bain Capital and (B) would he be the current Republican nominee?
What does this say for the diversity of thought among our nation's leaders for the past quarter century?
Should our president have either an Ivy Leauge degree or Military Experience?  Why/Why not?
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